We celebrate the Eucharist in Latin at least once a month, at Broughton on a Wednesday evening – see Service Times

      We also have one or two Sung Latin Eucharists during the summer months – 19.00 on a Sunday evening – with a visiting choir.  With refreshments in the hall afterwards, and many visitors from other parishes. The 2013 celebration of St Mary Magdalene

      This is a deliberate liturgical commitment (and it is demanding of the congregation), not an antiquarian fad.  It is a careful attempt to restore the task of worship, to counter one of the dangers of the modern rites.  But for a longer explanation, read the essay below:

 

 

WHY LATIN?

For the great majority of those who go to a Latin Mass, it is not the language itself that matters most.  To celebrate the Tridentine Mass of the sixteenth century is, by definition, to do so in Latin. Roman Catholic enthusiasts for the Latin Mass are, therefore, not unlike members of the Prayer Book Society in the Church of England (though they might not appreciate the comparison);  the language is simply the necessary vehicle for the traditional liturgy. Have one, and you are obliged to have the other.

Yes, but is there value in the language of the liturgy for its own sake?  Common Worship obviously thinks so, as witnessed by the inclusion of a traditional language version of the Order One Holy Communion.  The Catholic Church would surely agree, as witnessed by the meticulous care being taken over the new improved translation of the contemporary Mass.

The language of the Eucharist is important; it is an integral part of the offering to God;  the quality of the language is part of the quality of the worship.  No one, now, would seriously question the great value of being able to share the Eucharist in English, but have we not overlooked the real value and importance of using Latin, at least occasionally?

The great feature of Common Worship, as well as its informal supplements, is that it offers so much! Its merit is also its drawback:  there is a prayer for every conceivable situation.  Note in particular the alternative Collects, to cover the three-year lectionary:  they fit beautifully;  every Sunday has its own special prayer that helpfully complements the readings.  In the end there are simply too many prayers with too much information.

Should not the language of worship be a little less informative and a little more performative?  The information (very roughly) is directed towards us – it is telling us something, not God.  The ‘performance’ is about what the language does: it carries, expresses, conveys, performs the adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and oblation.

The English we now use is so wonderfully informative that this second and more important element is in danger of being forgotten.  By contrast, Latin, with virtually no informative content to the average English speaker, is rich with performative power, having been the medium of worship in our churches for centuries past.  The point is vividly made to the worshipper with no Latin at all:  either it is performative, as prayer or thanksgiving, or it is nonsense;  either it is worship directed to God, or it is completely pointless.

Celebrating in Latin, however, is not quite as easy as finding a text and getting on with it.  In our rural parish, as well as the special occasions with visiting choirs, we have been celebrating a Latin Eucharist on a regular basis for nearly ten years now, and have developed a few pragmatic rules and expectations.

Keep it simple, and hide nothing.  The service book we have printed has a parallel translation of every Latin text that is used, so no one need fear anything unknown being slipped in by the priest.  This may seem exaggerated, but one should not underestimate the visceral fear:  as one person put it, ‘What did we fight the Reformation for?’

The central section, the Ministry of the Word, is always in English – Collect, Readings, Psalm, Gospel, (Homily), (Creed), Intercessions.  Since this part self-evidently contains informative (and not just performative) language, it must be easily understandable.  Of course there are texts that would be wonderful in Latin, but this is a rule that needs to be kept without exceptions.

Where options are possible, the texts used are the shorter;  we do not use a long confession, for example, instead the simpler Kyrie form (Greek, of course).  Like 1662, but unlike the modern English rites, we use few seasonal variations;  the Latin text is therefore virtually the same all through the year.  This helps those unfamiliar with the language;  and has an unexpected merit of comfortable simplicity.

We say the Latin calmly and slowly.  It has taken some time to reach a shared calm, for there is no doubt that most people are unusually anxious about a Latin service, worried whether they can pronounce the words properly, or whether the service is somehow illegal, or whether they might be picked out for mockery or abuse.  Latin arouses strong passions: there is certainly something powerful involved.

So what are the merits?  It reminds us that the Eucharist is an act of humble offering and worship to Almighty God;  it is our ‘bounden duty and service’, not principally concerned with our own well-being and edification.  It makes the liturgy more obviously directed to God.

Would any foreign language do?  Not really, for Latin also has valuable ecumenical implications;  it is part of a shared Western heritage.  We can all share these texts, not only with other Christians of our own day but with our brothers and sisters who went before us for, unlike the translations, these texts do not need constant alteration and updating.

Finally, it helps, even in a small church with a small congregation, to restore the sense of mystery and transcendence to what may have become dull, ordinary and commonplace.  Deo gratias.

 

A note on Latin pronunciation